Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Coming of age stories come in all shapes and sizes.  The great ones feel unique and give you the sense that you are privy to an incredibly personal story.  Despite the singular details that set each of these stories apart, there is broad appeal and universality to these types of narratives because they are easily relatable.  The need for self-discovery, rites of passage, and relationship angst are just a few of the many experiences each of us encounter on our way to adulthood.  While The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about this type of journey it is also something very different – a very dark something different.

Set in 1991, Logan Lerman plays Charlie a painfully shy young man trying to navigate his way through life as a newly minted high school freshman.  Saddled with some intense emotional baggage, he struggles to find nary a friend nor a niche until he befriends Patrick and Sam (played by Eza Miller and Emma Watson respectively) – two seniors who march to the beat of different drummers.  The relationships Charlie develops with his newfound friends becomes increasingly challenging as the three teen protagonists struggle with different sets of difficulties.

Writer (of both novel and screenplay) and director Stephen Chbosky weaves an engaging tale that is funny, maddening, uplifting, and heart breaking in much the same way that those formative years can feel to a teen.  It is also a very dark story that fleshes out the troubling issues that plague Charlie.  In doing so, the story allows the viewer to easily invest in the protagonists and (judging by the reaction of others in the cinema) to experience the emotional roller coaster that is Charlie’s life.

To tell such a story in a meaningful way, the work of the cast has to be strong.  In this regard I have to give credit where credit is due.  When last I saw Logan Lerman, he had just turned in a terribly inept performance as D’artagnan in The Three Musketeers.  In this film, he pulls the acting equivalent of a 180.  His Charlie is shy, awkward, troubled, yet likable.  It is not easy to play someone that seems placid and drab with an entitrely different stream of thoughts flowing beneath the surface, but Lerman pulls it off incredibly well.  Equally as good in this film is Ezra Miller as Patrick – a gay teen engaged in a secret relationship.  To play a person who is both eccentric and  outgoing while secretly nursing inner heartbreak and self-doubt is an equally tricky feat, but Miller pulls it off with flying colors.

Emma Watson, as the third member of this trio, has the difficult task of shedding her cinematic baggage as Hermione Granger, but it only takes a few scenes to recognize that the young actress is up to the task of taking on a role that is something entirely different.  While Watson occasionally stumbles a bit with her American accent, she is soulful and charming and makes it easy to believe that Lerman’s Charlie can be so taken with her.  As for the rest of the cast, Paul Rudd, Dylan McDermott, Nina Dobrev, Johnny Simmons, and Mae Whitman do a very good job in limited screen time in helping to put together the pieces of Charlie’s life.  They each come to represents points of support and/or points of pain for Charlie making the narrative feel three dimensional and that quality sets it apart from the usual run-of-the-mill teen angst driven films.

 It’s not a perfect movie as it runs a bit long and in the third act the pacing falls off a bit, but it is a very good one.  The story is engaging; the acting very good; and the soundtrack featuring both New Order and The Smiths is excellent.  I would definitely recommend this movie, especially so to my fellow Gen-X’ers who can relate to a high school environment far less tolerant of those who are different.  Of all the things I can say about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the best is that it has a ton of heart – a quality that has been in short supply at the cinema lately.

Standout Performance: Ezra Miller.  His performance is a dynamic one that shows the greatest range of all the principle characters.  


  1. this movie had my wife in tears. ditto for lots of other people in the theater too.